In honor of my 23rd birthday, I wanted to reflect on just how far I've come in the past year. At this time last year, I was in "recovery" but quickly heading into a relapse. While I'm still having to work hard on recovery, the changes are hard to deny and have been life-changing.
I've decided to create a list of 23 gifts (shoutout @leenahlovesherself for the idea!) that recovery has given me, for my birthday.
I am so proud of how far I've come in the past year, and I am so hopeful that 23 will be the best year yet. I think reflecting on your birthdays can prove to be so hopeful to see where you are are and where you want to be. I have a ways to go, but I know that choosing and maintaining recovery will make this year the best one yet. Thank you, recovery, for the greatest gifts I could have ever been given.
Today was my first post-op appointment, 2 weeks out from my surgery. I got to see my pictures from the procedure (shown below) and get my stitches out. I get to start physical therapy tomorrow, and I learned that I only have to stay in a sling for 6 weeks (4 to go!!!). Today's visit made me really think about a couple of things, and how important it is to listen to your body.
Like I've said before, my shoulder bothered me for 9 years. I spent so much time going from doctor to doctor to try to get a proper diagnosis; I had 3 MRIs with two coming back inconclusive results, and multiple rounds of physical therapy that often felt like last-ditch efforts because no one knew what to do.
I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something really wrong with my shoulder that probably wouldn't be fixed without surgery. As the years went on, I thought maybe I would have to live with this chronic pain forever. Until this past summer when I decided to listen to my body and go for yet another consultation.
My surgeon told me going into it that he wasn't entirely sure what my shoulder would look like, but that he recommended surgery. He warned me it wouldn't be a home run, but that moving forward he thought it was my best option. I had to think long and hard about doing this anyway, and decided ultimately to listen to my gut and go for it.
Today's appointment was a HUGE validation for me in terms of going through with having the surgery. My doctor told me that the findings were super impressive--he was able to completely dislocate my shoulder easily when I was under, and he found that my labrum (the cartilage buffer) in the back was super far away from the joint, and that my shoulder had been dislocating to the back regularly. He put in 4 anchors in the bone to bring it back to the joint (so I may be setting off airport metal detectors for the future!), and from my understanding, anchors are typically reserved for the crazier tears.
Basically, today showed me how serious my injury was, and that there was no way in hell that it would've healed itself on its own. It was certainly not easy to decide on a surgery that wasn't a "home run", but I am so glad that I followed my gut and listened to my body and how it was feeling. I realized today just how serious my injury was, and I am so thankful that I took this leap of faith in moving forward with surgery. I am optimistic about the progress I will make and the reduction in pain I will have.
It is so important to listen to your body, and if something feels like it's off, it probably is. Never stop advocating for yourself.
As I write this (one-handed), I am currently 4 days out of surgery. It feels pretty surreal to have this procedure done, finally, after being in pain for the last 9 years. I felt like a huge wave of anxiety rolled right off of me when I woke up on Friday morning, because I had been anticipating this surgery so much before-hand. I really hadn't even thought of the following recovery time because my brain was so clouded with stress and anxiety, and so the last few days have been a learning curve for me as I slow the eff down from all the pre-surgery nerves.
I'll be learning to write better one-handed this summer and sharing the life lessons that I will inevitably come across as I recover from this surgery. In the meantime, I wanted to reflect on what I did prior to surgery to unwind and survive this surgery.
Before my procedure, here are the things that I found to be the most effective:
I couldn't be more thrilled to be out of surgery and on the path to recovery, and I know I will learn a lot and grow through this process.
Friday was the day I officially stepped down/discharged from a higher level of care. It's been just about 4 months that I've been in treatment 5 days a week for multiple hours a day. It has been a long, difficult road to get here, and yet, I couldn't be more thankful for this experience. I thought I'd compile a list of 10 things I learned in treatment, as a little homage to the time I spent here.
1. Starting treatment is scary. Even if this isn't your first rodeo, it's pretty terrifying to go to a new center, meet new therapists and patients and commit to share everything with them over the course of the next few months. It gets easier as time goes on, but there's definitely some first day of school nerves (or full body anxiety, whichever is more your style) that happened when I was first there. It made me question everything, like, Why am I here? But I'm so glad I stuck it out.
2. Eating disorders don't discriminate. This one I already knew but have to say it louder for those in the back. Treatment was filled with wonderful men and women of all races, ages, body types, and walks of life. Eating disorders are NOT young, wealthy, white girl illnesses. Just no. Anyone can (and they do) suffer from eating disorders. This is such an important takeaway that I thought it was worth mentioning (again and again and again....)
3. There can be humor in the middle of the pain and darkness, and it can be SO healing. For the amount of times I cried in treatment, there were probably an equal amount of times I was truly laughing. For example, see my post about Donald Trump, which had me full belly laughing over with both of my therapists, in multiple sessions. Humor helped me keep things from always being so heavy, and has really helped me heal and be able to form connections.
4. The bonds you can create within 4 months will surprise you. There will be tears and sadness as you walk out of that door for the last time. Your connections with this place, the people, and the work you've done will never cease to amaze you. They now take up space in a section of your heart.
5. Your friends from treatment will get you like no one else. The shared experiences plus working through some of your hardest shit together really go hand in hand for lasting friendships. A smile or a squeeze of the hand can go a long way when someone's struggling during a group or a hard meal. A single look can also send you into (often inappropriate) laughter at these times. They just get you.
6. Speaking of friends just getting it, you'll quickly find out that just about everyone you go to treatment with can (and does) relate to the Dog on Fire Meme. It quickly becomes a short-handed, very accurate way to check in with each other and describe how you're doing. You'll even show your therapists and use it in sessions. Oops.
7. DBT will go from being a type of therapy to a way of life. I'm serious. You'll have heated discussions about whether DBT'ers are a cult or not (they totally are), start actively calling people out on using "judgements", and some will even get tattoos to commemerate what they've learned. (Not me, don't worry, Mom & Dad). Basically, DBT and being skillful will totally take over your life (in the best possible way), and you'll let it.
8. It'll become a battle of who can come up with the most obscure item you can buy at Walmart or random verb you can "teapot" with. Games will help you tremendously to get through tough meals, and obviously you will get competitive af with them. Yes, we're all here to support each other but I want to be the one who stumps everyone with what I'm thinking of!
9. Treatment will show you that you are NOT alone. You have a team of people rooting for you to succeed and kick this illness's ass. From your therapists (x100), dietitian, psychiatrist and friends, you will never, ever be alone. You have so many people in your corner, and that makes this whole recovery thing just a little bit easier.
10. You'll learn... Actually you CAN. Treatment will show you that recovery can happen. Treatment will show you that recovery is possible and worth it, and that it's possible for you.
Dear 18-year old Charlotte,
I know times are hard and being alone and independent is scary. I believe you about the bad things that have happened to you that you don't want to tell anyone about. Please know that it is not your fault and you did not deserve it. I believe you.
I want you to know that there's nothing you could have done to prevent all that went down at the end of the year. You did everything you could and then some. You're not to blame for not seeing the signs earlier; you're still so young and you didn't know any better. People are very lucky to have you in their lives.
Please don't believe that you have to binge drink or give your heart to meaningless boys to numb yourself. It's okay to feel the feelings. It's okay to be sad, and shocked, and angry. You are allowed to feel these feelings, and you are allowed to move on from toxic situations.
I know that another situation happened where your body was no longer your own and you felt like you didn't have any choice in the matter. I know that your body physically rejected it and you don't think it was a big deal. I know that therapists will tell you time and time again that you had a panic attack because of your issues with people pleasing and control. Know that I believe you, it happened, it was a big deal, and you were not to blame.
I understand why you took back the control of your body. I know you felt helpless and in so much pain you didn't know what to do. It makes sense that you took your body back and gave it to ED. I understand.
Please believe me when I tell you that you have not ever been responsible for other peoples' lives. There is nothing you did too much of besides care. There is nothing you did too little of besides walk away. Whatever happens to that person is between them and themselves. You can't help someone or make them stay well if they don't want it for them selves. It's not your fault.
I want you to know that walking away doesn't mean you've failed or done something wrong. It means that you've had enough wisdom to know when toxic relationships are no longer serving you. It's something to be PROUD of, being able to listen to your gut like that. You need to trust your gut because you have so much wisdom inside of you. There are simply people who no longer deserve to be in your life. And that's entirely okay.
You will be invalidated. You will reach out for help about your concerns with your eating and will be told you don't restrict enough. You will be told your panic attacks have nothing to do with assault and you don't have problems with food. Your depression and eating disorder will be ignored, pushed down, encouraged. You will experience all of this, and it will hurt. A lot.
But I want you to keep going. I want you to keep advocating for yourself, to keep pushing forward. I want you to tell the professionals, "No! This isn't normal!" until they listen to you.
Please know that the hate you feel for your body and yourself isn't normal or just part of life. Please know that your struggles with food are not "just what everyone's doing". Please know that you are sick, and you deserve help.
Please don't ever give up. Even when you're in your lowest lows, keep going. You will eventually find a team of people who will BELIEVE you and HEAR you and you'll no longer have to communicate by how long you can starve yourself. You will eventually be completely understood and you may even find peace with the demons you've faced and the ones still lingering inside of you.
Please know that you do not have to hate your body and yourself for eternity. You may not like it but your body has never given up on you. It's been through all your darkest days and the times when you treated it like your worst enemy. I'm confident that one day you will find peace in your own skin, even if it's a moment to moment kind of thing.
You are SO worthy. You are worthy in who you are, the way you act, the way you treat your friends and loved ones, and how you always want to do good for others. Your accomplishments do not define you, and neither do your body or your weight. You are a bright, kind, caring individual with a tremendous future ahead of you. Someday you may even help others deal with their own darkness; you may shine the light of hope or simply be there for them. You have SO much to give to others, this world, and yourself.
And finally, I know that this is hard. I know that a lot of times it feels like it's going to get harder before there is any relief. But keep going. You are the strongest person I know. You are a WARRIOR. You are a survivor, who has been through hell and back and made it here. You can and will make it through this and everything along the way. And I'm truly so excited to see where you'll end up.
(almost) 23-year old
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.